When she’s not busy dealing with four children and two cats, Erika Loftis — SIM’s Asia Region Arts Specialist — is painting beautiful botanicals and is passionate about the power of art in healing and spiritual and mental health.
“I’ve been artistic all my life, but have never studied it, so when I found myself struggling with my mental health, I decided to take an adult watercolour class,” she says.
“I sat in a room surrounded by women older and younger than me, some highly-skilled artists, some less so. They worked at their tables chatting about their lives, making jokes, complaining and even sharing religious stories.
“It was in this room that God used colour and line — and women who didn’t even know him — to heal my heart.
“I experienced the grace to make mistakes without judgement and it was this safety, along with an opportunity to grow in my technical skill, that I began to see how effective being creative was in lifting the cloud of depression and anxiety.”
Neuroscientists are proving again and again the benefits of creativity for all people, and it has been especially effective for people who are mentally or physically unwell.
As Christians, who are aware that we are made in the image of a creator God, it’s no surprise that there’s benefit in being creative, says Erika.
Science has determined that art making, in all its various forms, and often even just looking at art, can reduce stress hormones and give our bodies and minds a little break, leaving us clearer headed, and reducing stress-associated health risks like heart attacks.
“Since having my own experience with the benefits of art making, I’ve been excited to see it used in many ways,” she adds.
“I’ve participated in art retreats: leading prayer and meditations on Scripture and creating art pieces in response.
“This included one using layers of pencils, paint, and ultimately gold ink, as we processed who Jesus says he is and who we have wanted him to be.
“I know this is always an impactful time for the participants as God very often speaks to us in new ways. Very often there are tears, but I’ve also seen that people empowered to view themselves as artistic, begin to use art to pray, worship, and find healing, and so I’ve started teaching watercolour classes.
“The most essential thing to create a healing artistic environment is not the presence of an art therapist, but the presence of emotional safety, particularly in group settings. This is achieved by encouraging positive speech both about a person’s own work and about the work of the people around them.
“Encouraging everyone in your group or class to reflect on what they are seeing with comments like, ‘Those colours make me feel calm’ or ‘I love the shapes you have there’ help to foster a comfortable and emotionally safe environment.
“Another benefit of doing art in group settings (for instance, art retreats and classes) is the sense of community and connectedness that people can experience.
“If Covid has taught us anything, we have learned the importance of people in our lives! By creating a safe environment to create art, in a communal setting, a group can enhance a person’s healing and artistic growth.”
This article first appeared in SIM Creative Arts newsletter Artsbeat.
- For more Christians with artistic talents to glorify God and display the gospel.
- For God to open the ears and hearts of those touched by SIM creative arts ministries.